Ranjit Sabikhi

Principal Partner, Ranjit Sabikhi Architects

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Control Of Traffic In Delhi An Issue Of Major Concern

Car users constitute a small minority of the total population, but occupy a major section of space in the city in the form of roads and parking areas

The Delhi government has decided to set up a separate cell for the complete redesign of the capital’s road system. They propose to address traffic problems, the provision of proper space for pedestrians, the planning of space around metro stations, and all vehicular parking issues. Hopefully this will lead to the development of a unified policy to deal with traffic related problems as a whole. While there is growing awareness of these problems that contribute to the erosion of environmental conditions there is a tendency to deal with them as isolated local area issues, and not considered on a wider urban scale.

Car users constitute a small minority of the total population, but occupy a major section of space in the city in the form of roads and parking areas. The space taken by vehicular traffic keeps increasing with the addition of new flyovers and bridges, and road widening proposals, while the available area for pedestrians and cyclists is being steadily reduced. In many parts of the city footpaths have completely disappeared, and the space has been taken over by parked cars, forcing pedestrians to walk in the middle of vehicular traffic. This is an issue that needs attention, and it is good that the proposed road design cell plans to work towards reorganizing the system to make road space more pedestrian and cycle friendly. One looks forward with interest to the enforcement of a set of corrective proposals.

The proper organization and control of traffic is an issue of major concern for the citizens of the city. With the steady increase in the number of cars, roads are getting more and more congested, and traffic jams are a regular occurrence. Newspapers carry daily reports of issues relating to hopeless traffic condition, haphazard parking, the occurrence of serious accidents, the ignoring of traffic regulations, and the lack of an organized system of traffic control. Over the last one year 10 lakh new vehicles have been registered, and the total number of vehicles in Delhi, is almost three and a half times the number of vehicles in the city of Mumbai. Commuting time has doubled in the last six years, and traffic speed has halved during peak hours. The average speed has come down from 42 kmph to 20 kmph. Toxic exhaust fumes emitted by the large number of vehicles contribute 25% to the city’s air pollution. Although more people are commuting by metro rail, the number of people using public buses has declined. This is due to the shortage of buses. There are at present only 5,814 DTC buses in operation against a requirement of 11,000 buses. The Delhi government and the Delhi Integrated Multi-modal Transit System (DIMTS) are in the process of getting more buses, and are planning to rationalize the system to provide better connectivity to the metro system, and to provide greater penetration into congested areas.

Although 35% of road users walk, proper space has not been allocated for their safe movement. Roads and public spaces that were once the domain of pedestrians have been taken over by cars and vehicles. This has happened in many residential areas, all local markets, and public meeting spaces. Large numbers of people walk in the city, either on their way to work, or to do shopping or other chores. Many young people walk from their homes to schools, or from schools to bus stops, or the metro station, but there are inadequate safe pedestrian footpaths for them to walk on. In most parts of the city there are areas, where pedestrians walk directly on the roads, jostling for space between parked cars, and moving vehicles. From many metro stations passengers emerge directly on to badly planned areas with limited provision for the large numbers of auto rickshaws, e-rickshaws, and taxis, waiting to pick up passengers. The problem is further complicated by extensive space being taken over by vendors. Despite being aware of this, the metro authorities have not responded effectively in planning the space around new metro stations in their proposed expansion of the system.

At present cycling is an unsafe alternative option because of the lack of dedicated bicycle tracks. Cycle tracks have been provided along a few major roads that cover short distances, and lack continuity. They are further rendered unsafe due to uncontrolled use of these lanes by scooters and motorcycles. The planning of a linked system of safe bicycle tracks would provide a safe alternative option for many young car users. Several countries in the world have realized that it is only a small section of the total population that can afford cars, and have shifted priority to planning for an organized system of public transport, linked to an extensive network of cycle tracks and pedestrian paths, providing comprehensive connectivity. This is an approach that has relevance and could be replicated in our context.

Increase in car numbers
With the steady increase in the number of cars the demand for parking space keeps expanding. In the absence of proper control, cars are parked in every available open space. In many residential areas, pedestrian footpaths have been completely taken over by parked cars. Vehicular congestion is also common in local markets, shopping centers, and major office complexes like Connaught Place, ITO, Nehru Place, and Bhikaji Cama Place. In some locations local authorities have built multistory parking structures, which are not effectively used. Unless unauthorized parking is controlled by the strict enforcement of regulations, such as the locking of car wheels, and the actual removal of wrongly parked vehicles, car users will not recognize the need to park in the designated parking structures.

Multistory car parks developed by private developers, particularly those with elaborate parking mechanisms like car lifts and hydraulic stacking of cars are poorly operated and managed. As it takes much time to park and retrieve a car, users prefer to run the risk of penalties by parking in available space at ground level. The developers of such car parks generate substantial revenue from the percentage of commercial space that they are permitted to develop, so they do not bother to properly manage and control the parking of vehicles.

The conditions attached to the sale of sites for parking structures need to be suitably altered with the provision of heavy penalties, to make it the responsibility of the developers to ensure that no vehicles are parked on the roads and open areas adjoining their sites.

The traffic police and other enforcement agencies are poorly trained to deal with the extensive problem of indiscriminate unauthorized parking of all kinds of vehicles. If the parking of vehicles were properly organized and managed, large areas currently being misused would become available for proper development. This is particularly true in office areas like ITO and Nehru Place, where almost every available open space is taken over by haphazard parking. In such concentrated developments, detailed planning with the complete separation of pedestrian and vehicular movement on different levels would help bring about some sense of order and control.

In order to bring about real change, along with proper traffic planning, the strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations by the Delhi Traffic Police is essential. At present traffic regulations are widely ignored and violated by drivers on the road. Common violations include, improper lane driving coupled with speeding and dangerous driving, cutting across traffic lanes, driving in the wrong direction against oncoming traffic on roads with central medians, making u-turns under flyovers in the wrong direction to avoid long detours, parking vehicles on the corners near road junctions creating serious traffic obstructions, and driving two wheelers along with pillion riders without safety helmets. Large numbers of drivers can be seen speaking, sending messages, or surfing on cell phones while driving. These are all common occurrences for which traffic police sometimes issue challans, but it is obvious that prosecution is not adequate, as it has failed to reduce the scale of violations that contribute to increasingly dangerous traffic conditions.

Drivers not properly trained
A very large number of vehicle drivers are not properly trained, and are not fully aware of the rules of the road. In such cases their licenses should be revoked, and reissued only on proof of proper retraining and strict re-testing. Serious action should also be taken against taxi firms like Uber and Ola, whose large number of drivers are poorly trained and can be commonly seen weaving in and out of traffic lanes, violating the most basic of traffic regulations.

As compared to traffic police in cities like Mumbai, Bengalaru and Chennai, Dehi’s traffic police lack basic discipline. The proper training of police personnel responsible for controlling traffic is important. Traffic police need to ensure that they themselves are aware of the implications of the rules of the road, in order to ensure effective enforcement. At present it is clear that enforcement and control of traffic is erratic. There is extensive violation of traffic regulations all over the city. Locations at which traffic checks are carried out are poorly selected, often just beyond traffic lights, where stopped vehicles create a massive backup of traffic, resulting in serious traffic jams. In many situations large numbers of drivers who violate road rules are stopped, but are let off on the basis of mutual settlement. This may seem like an extreme statement, but consider news reports of the large numbers of traffic violations on New Year’s Eve in an overnight drive by the Delhi Traffic Police. It was recorded that the number of prosecutions on 31st December 2016 were double of that noted a year earlier on 31st December 2015. For this special enforcement drive this year 2,423 traffic officials were deployed, 13 cameras, 11 interceptors, and 149 alcometers were used, and 13,260 challans were issued. It is obvious that traffic violations had been steadily increasing over the past year, but there seems to be no record of increased prosecutions over that period. During the New Year’s Eve drive the maximum number of challans, were issued to two wheeler drivers without helmets, yet this is a common violation, which still continues. Is it adequate that the Traffic Police carry out an enforcement drive only once a year in order to record statistics? Are the citizens of the city not entitled to effective traffic policing throughout the year?

It is good to note that the local authorities and the Delhi government are slowly beginning to think about ways to bring about measures to control traffic, to relieve the current chaotic conditions. Some sense of order will come about if the proposals to make Connaught Place and Khan Market vehicle free. In addition if the proposals to link the registration of new cars to proof of available parking space, hiking of parking charges in all open areas, and taking of strict action against illegal parking, are effectively implemented, it will help in alleviating the current chaotic situation. However, the city’s traffic problems need to be addressed on a citywide scale in order to bring about real change.